We Saw This: Aquarium Drunkard's CMJ Showcase
Last night, Los Angeles-based music blog Aquarium Drunkard hosted their CMJ Showcase at Mercury Lounge in NY. With the subtitle of No Jacket Required, I couldn’t pass up a promise of drunken weirdness and great music, which is precisely what was delivered.
I unfortunately missed the first act, composer Rafiq Bhatia, but I heard he did not disappoint. I arrived at the beginning of Murals’ set, and was immediately drawn in to their kaleidoscopic psych. They effortlessly weaved in and out of harmonic vocals, hazy guitars, and occasional dips into kraut rock-style jams. A solid set, all around.
Next up was Calvin Love, a recent signee of Aquarium Drunkard’s Autumn Tone Records. Anyone who may have fallen into a bit of a sleepy haze from Murals set was surely woken up by Love’s raw energy. He stepped up to the mic with the look of a man on a mission, and jumped right into an energetic set of his own blend of post-punk, new wave and rockabilly. Singing and playing electric guitar and synthesizer over his own recordings gave his sound a spectral kind of echo, completely consuming the room. His 50’s swagger stage performance: well earned.
I was totally unprepared for what would come next: the incredibly precocious and manic talent of Foxygen. I had only recently just heard their well-received Take The Kids Off Broadway EP and their new Richard Swift-produced single “Shuggie,” all of which I dug. However, those recordings, as strikingly out-there as they are, gave me no indication of the wholly unique and consummate performance these kids give on stage. Frontman Sam France’s presence was both beautifully manic and jarringly schizophrenic, with moments of not-entirely comforting tranquility. The band draws from 60’s psych, resembling The Kinks at their weirdest, and 70’s glam-rock, recalling Bowie at his most boisterous. There were even moments of horror-tinged pop, think if The Cramps maybe procreated with The Unicorns. Shimmering organ solos and visceral spaz attacks from the front man. Deep, evil, baritone laughs and glass-shattering screeches. It was all there, and the band easily stole the night, maybe even the entire week.
Things mellowed way out with the fifth act, three-piece shoe gaze outfit Tashaki Miyaki. The band channeled Mazzy Star with their female singer/drummer’s woozy and strung-out vocals. They were at their best when falling down a rabbit hole of distorted guitars, sparse drum kicks and fleetingly echoed vocals. They rounded out their set with a fittingly haunting rendition of The Everly Brothers’ “All I Have To Do Is Dream.” Dark pop for dark times.
Next up were fan-favorites The Orwells. The room was fully packed out for these kids, who ran through a rowdy set of angsty teenage garage rock. It truly was the night of the crazed front man as 18-year-old lead singer Mario Cuomo lost his shit on stage, demanding the audience from the get-go to “bend the fuck over.” We all were then collectively violated, in a good way, by the band’s raw, unrelenting energy as Cuomo flopped around on strange and freakishly twirled his hair, twinkled his eye and grinned like a psychopath at the audience. Oh, he had his way with us, all right.
The crowd thinned out a little after The Orwells, but a solidly strong and faithful crew, as well as a handful of very drunken bros, who I believe mistakenly wandered in, hung around for Dent May’s 1am closing set. The quartet breezed through their brand of dancey pop jams, trademarked by May’s distinctively nasal vocals. They kept starting each song with heavy feedback, before jumping into their markedly opposite sound, a trait which both kept amusing me and pumping up the bros, as they then fist pumped and skipped around, perhaps not altogether ironically, to the band’s feel-good vibes. Ah, the power of music.
Additionally, Mondo Boys, whose wonderful and strange mix tapes are exclusively released through Aquarium Drunkard, handled the DJ’ing duties in between sets. Their selections soared through the spectrum of weird and obscure psych, soul and funk tunes, infinitely expanding the musical palette of all in attendance. FYI: 60’s Indonesian girl group Dara Puspita’s cover of “To Love Somebody” is a must-hear. Thanks, Mondo Boys.
And thanks to Aquarium Drunkard for putting together a stellar night of music. Good times, good vibes, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this goes down as one of the top shows of CMJ this year.